CSOs Condemn Govt Response to Mine Protests

By Nobel Zaw 26 December 2014

RANGOON — Nine civil society groups involved in the implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Burma issued a statement on Thursday strongly condemning the government’s handling of the Letpadaung copper mine protests during which a 56-year-old woman was killed and several other protestors injured on Dec. 22-23.

The groups said that the authorities’ heavy-handed response to the protests highlighted possible barriers to the implementation of the EITI, a resource revenue reporting protocol.

Win Myo Thu, a member of Burma’s EITI civil society steering committee and director of EcoDev, an NGO advocating for sustainable development and good environmental governance in Burma, said the authorities’ actions had caused him to question his future participation in the EITI process.

“If the government’s implementation [of the EITI process] is just for show, to get recognition from the international community, I don’t want to be involved. I want to stay on the side of the public,” Win Myo Thu said.

The groups’ statement said that the EITI process was about good resource governance, transparency and responsibility—not just international recognition. A coalition of more than 200 civil society groups supported the statement.

Since Burma became a candidate for EITI membership in July this year, civil society has the right to voice their opinion about the management of the country’s resources, the statement said. The violence at the Letpadaung mine “violated that guideline,” it said.

The civil society groups are now collecting facts regarding the Letpadaung protests and will report to EITI board members next month, Win Myo Thu said.

EITI is a voluntary protocol established in 2002 that has been endorsed by the G-8 and currently has 29 fully compliant members. An additional 17 countries, including Burma and the United States, now have candidate status.

Becoming EITI compliant is a crucial reform for Burma, which has long had a reputation for shady and corrupt business deals, particularly with regard to extractive projects in ethnic areas. Members produce an annual revenue report that enables citizens to see how much money their government is making from extractive projects.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Burma issued its own statement on the unrest at the Letpadaung mine site. The embassy expressed its “deep condolence” over the death of Khin Win, a protestor shot dead by police on Monday, but backed the project’s continued implementation.

The embassy emphasized that the Chinese government: “requires overseas Chinese enterprises to abide by the laws and regulations in the host countries, while carrying out social responsibility and obligations and focusing on environment protection.”

The Letpadaung copper mining project is being developed as a joint venture between the Chinese company Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited and the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.